If modern existential death has a face, that face is clearly outlined in the TV series White Lotus. The series of 6 episodes is set in a luxury resort in the Hawaiian Islands. Among the newcomers to the island are newlyweds, the wife is beautiful and unsure, a freelance journalist who has failed to land a respectable job. Her husband is a rich, buffed, white guy who bleeds entitlement and who refers to his wife's journalism as "click bate" and hence of no consequence. There is a family consisting of a high-power wife and emasculated husband who, appropriately, is anxious that he has diseased testicles, a daughter and her friend and a boy of sixteen. The two girls exist in a private clique formed from the latest ideological woke fashion and impeccable personal style. They are arrogant and superior. The son spends all his time playing games on his device and finds himself sleeping on the beach because his sister refuses to have him sleep in the common area of their suite.
Welcome to the cushioned reality of the secular wasteland in which style, status and money reduce humanity to self-obsessed seekers after happiness and the good time. These are the lords of the universe. The newlyweds never talk of the realities of married life. When the subject of children comes up the husband gives a tortured look. One suspects that the marriage does not include a common purse. Financially, the wife is on her own and she is surprised when others suggest that her husband could pay off her student loans. She has signed a pre-nup that protects her husband's wealth. He says to his wife that they will always be young, always be in love. His mother, who drops in unannounced, scorns the idea of the wife having a job and puts on such a display of vacuity that one winces. I am reminded of the Veneerings of Dicken's "Our mutual friend".
Clearly, the new wife is expected to be her husband's arm candy, a trophy wife. She will never be allowed to find her own way in life, she will always be the "plus one". When she realises this and understands that her husband is a "baby man" intent on the downfall of others and on his own vindication over trivial slights, she concludes that she has made a mistake in marrying him and moves to another room.
The program is hard to watch, we cringe at the reduction of the human to kindergarten impulse. It is hard to watch because the characters see themselves as living at the pinnacle of our civilization. But we watchers are not filled with envy but with revulsion. This is surely the hell of the living dead. The protagonists seek paradise but find only hell. This is the end result of all of our aspirations, technology, literature, art, philosophy and culture: a man who is put out because he was given the wrong room in the hotel. These people live in a world of shiny things, and they refuse to look below the surface of life, refuse the reality of death, of failure, of struggle. They are simply unaware. They are, as one character says, monkeys, driven by the most basic of animal impulses, such is the depth of their nihilism.
While the writers of this program have skewered the character of so many who have succumbed to the glitz of the secular world, they, of course, offer no remedy. Indeed, they try very hard at the end of the series to pluck some good news out of the human morass they have so painstakingly depicted. The husband and wife of the family find each other again, the son finds a purpose, the troubled rich lady finds "love" and the young wife promises to be happy. It is the last that I find most disturbing. I want to say to her: run! run for your life, these people will eat you alive and you will live a life of surfaces and glamor and lose any idea of your humanity. The writer's efforts to find a happy ending are tenuous. There is no cure to be found in these people's lives, they walk over an abyss of nothingness. They may be blessed with a glimpse of love, but they are so enmeshed in the world of surfaces that they cannot escape. Their denial is too deep.
Ezekiel's valley of dry bones comes to mind. We are like the whole host of Israel lying in the dust waiting for the breath of God to raise us up. While I am sure that the gospel could penetrate these dead lives, who will preach it to them? These lords of the universe who would have no other lord. They are so insulated, so self-assured, so filled with ego that this seems impossible. They are destined to go to their graves wondering what it was all about. Their death will be like their life; meaningless. No one will remember them.
While White Lotus aims at an easy target, the entitled rich, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer reminds that "In the midst of life we are in death". In other words, all living are afflicted by deathliness. The program is interesting in that it surveys, in an extreme form, how modern self-obsession damages both the self and those around that self. It reminds us that the possession of money, for the unexamined mind, can lead to a nightmare. The old moralities, that warned us of this danger, are not enough to hold us in and the ego rules supreme. God help us!
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